Blog Entries: 1 to 10 of 11
Since our President, Kristina Newcomer, could not attend the April General Meeting, this month’s column is being penned by our 1st Vice President and Program Chair, Christine Cohen.
WAGS had the pleasure of welcoming Dana Goolsby Jones of Generations Jones Genealogy at our April meeting. She discussed the need to examine the mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) of our mothers. This, along with traditional paper genealogy, shows your maternal line for thousands of years.
The only company that offers this test is Family Tree DNA. Every human being, regardless of sex, inherits mtDNA from their biological mother, but only genetic females pass on mtDNA to their offspring. It is also unique because it does not divide with each new generation or mix with the DNA of the biological father, providing an unbroken link with our maternal line.
Dana explained that all people regardless of gender can take a mtDNA test. The test should be done on the oldest generation to obtain the best results for matches. A perfect match means one may find a common ancestor in your maternal line, although the match may be from thousands of years ago.
Also, fish in every pond by downloading and transferring your raw autosomal DNA test results from:
She suggested the best resource to explain and understand is a book by Blaine Bettinger: The Family Tree Guide to DNA Testing and Genetic Genealogy, Second Edition. New York, NY, Family Tree Books, 2019. His website is https://thegeneticgenealogist.com/.
As many of us have become more and more focused on our genealogical heritage – bolstered by ever-refined DNA results – the possibility of dual citizenship as a way to further identify with our ancestry is an intriguing possibility. Gregory Beckman’s presentation about his journey to acquire dual U.S. – Italian citizenship through his great-grandfather, Tommaso Gelfusa, identified the steps he needed to follow and the “what, why and how” that led to his success.
Basically, before beginning on your own journey, it is imperative to become familiar with the various rules set up by the forty-three countries that permit dual citizenship with the United States. Historically, the United States did not permit dual citizenship prior to 1967, and it is important to remember that our government follows the ‘master nationality’ rule which means that it “recognizes only the U.S. nationality of an individual, regardless of another citizenship that the individual holds.” To aid you in determining where to begin and how to proceed, check out the following website for clarification: www.nnuimmigration.com/dual-citizenship-usa/.
What is dual-citizenship? It is defined as “the status of an individual to hold the nationality of two different countries at the same time.” This sounds pretty straight forward, but as Greg’s talk explained, the eligibility requirements can vary from country to country and fees can be prohibitive. Extensive documentation and certification will be required and, as in Greg’s case, you may have to hire a lawyer to help expedite the paperwork. There are benefits to acquiring dual-citizenship, such as feeling connected to your ancestral roots, being able to travel without a special visa, the ability to own property, and the right to work and vote. Of course, in some cases, once you have citizenship rights in a second country, you may also be required to pay taxes for any income derived while living there, and possible military obligations. Make sure you know the pluses and minuses before you begin the process.
I was curious to see if I could qualify for dual-citizenship in the countries where my most recent ancestors came from: Canada, Germany, Sweden, UK, or Ireland. All of these countries base their requirement on jus sanguinis – right of blood – and in every case except Ireland this meant a parent. Ireland extends their citizenship requirement to a grandparent. As my most recent immigrants were my great-grandmother from Canada in 1862, my 2nd great-grandfather from Germany in 1864, my great-grandparents from Sweden in 1881, my 3rd great-grandfather from England in 1835, and my 3rd great-grandmother from Ireland in 1835, I can’t qualify for dual-citizenship anywhere. At this point, the only member of my extended family who can qualify for dual-citizenship is my oldest nephew whose maternal grandfather was born in Northern Ireland and immigrated to the United States in 1923.
If you have obtained dual-citizenship, please share your journey with us at our next social half-hour in April.
I never imagined when I joined WAGS in 2001 that one day I would become a member of the Life Story Writing Group and eventually become the group facilitator. And, even though I have been researching my family history for about forty years and recording my family stories since January 2010, I am the first to admit that there is always something new to learn about the process and performance of writing – working through to the completion of a goal – that makes the act both less stressful and more rewarding.
Kimberlie Guerrieri’s presentation on Writing About Your Family History – Strategies and Tips for Storytelling demonstrated that writing about our family history in story form doesn’t have to be a daunting experience, and can preserve our genealogical research in a way that is infinitely more memorable and shareable. Her talk explored the process of writing by applying her easy-to-use five-step formula to get us started on the road to storytelling success.
Kimberlie stressed that we need to write about ourselves and our ancestors so that we – and they – will not be forgotten. If we don’t share our hard-earned knowledge, then who will? Storytelling is one way to preserve and make ‘family accessible’ all of the research data that we have been gathering over a lifetime of pouring over documents, stalking through graveyards, recording sources, and searching through archives. After all, what good are dry facts – no matter how accurate and important they may be – if they are only of interest to other genealogists and leave our family members only mildly connected or outright bored?
By using Kimberlie’s five-step formula we can turn those dry facts into brilliant stories, biographical sketches, a family history book, a photo book, family newsletter, memoir, blog or social media post. She suggested that to succeed we need to make writing a ritual, set a timer and focus on our project for 15 – 30 minutes a day. The key to success is to go one step at a time and set ourselves achievable goals. Choose our subject, write one simple sentence and then build on our story by adding additional details, editing, revising, polishing and sharing our stories. After all, isn’t the goal of genealogical research to preserve for posterity the lives of our ancestors? Storytelling is just one more aspect of how we can share our ancestors’ lives with their descendants.
Above all, remember that the more we write, the more we’ll get our creative juices flowing, the more our writing skills will improve, and the more our audience will be engaged. Best of all, our ancestors will live on through our storytelling.
For more writing tips contact Kimberlie Guerrieri at firstname.lastname@example.org, and join the WAGS Life Story Writing Group on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month for motivation and friendly sharing.
According to songwriters John Kander and Fred Ebb, “money makes the world go around” whether it’s eights, reals, livres or crowns. (That last part is my contribution.) Mark Cross’s detailed presentation on Colonial Currency: New Money in a New Country explained how the evolution of currency – in all its various forms – during the early years of our colonization had a profound effect on relations between Great Britain and the American colonies.
I found it fascinating to learn that in addition to trade and barter, our early ancestors used wampum – cut and polished sea shells – as a medium of exchange for goods and services. I had always assumed that wampum was a made-up word used in early black and white westerns on television. Although created by the indigenous tribes of the Northeastern woodlands, wampum was used in the same way that early colonists used French livres, Spanish pieces of eight, Portuguese reals, or the rare British crown when available.
Mark detailed how the British Parliament’s harshly restrictive laws with regard to currency in the colonies led several to begin printing their own ‘paper money’ beginning in 1690 and lasting until our independence from British rule. By printing their own money, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Pennsylvania and other colonies were openly defying the King and setting themselves up for harsh penalties. In order to rebuild their empty coffers after years of war with France, Britain imposed the Stamp Act of 1765 – a catch-22 situation in which unattainable coin was needed to pay royally created taxes – thus angering the colonies to the point where revolution was the only answer.
After the revolutionary war, we still didn’t have a standard national currency, and several states continued to print their own money. It wasn’t until the 1790s that we began minting our own silver dollars based upon the decimal system. Eventually, the dollar became the accepted form of currency in the United States. Over time, currencies have adapted to the capricious nature of the marketplace and the simple silver dollar has been joined by paper bills, checks, electronic deposits, credit cards, and now cryptocurrency. What the future holds for traditional money is anyone’s guess.
Cindy Lauper wrote that “money changes everything,” but it seems to me that everything (marketing and technology) is changing money!
This year our WAGS annual winter Show & Tell had nine contributors! Prompted by the newsletter headline asking “What is your latest family history discovery?” our members and friends engaged us with tales of genealogical puzzles that were solved, fruitful DNA connections made, brick walls that came tumbling down and enriching stories about family migrations and remembrances. This was our second virtual holiday gathering for Show & Tell, and I want to thank everyone who participated in making it such a success.
First up was Trish Stumpf-Garcia who told us about her Englehart family mystery and how she used both United States and German resources to find and document the correct branch of her Engleharts. Way to go, Trish.
Next, we heard from Marisa Reyes who read her mother’s story titled “The Ides of March.” The story painted a picture of life during World War II through the eyes of a young woman. Thank you for sharing, Marisa.
I told the story of how the brick wall on the Irish side of my family tree was finally overcome when the 1808 baptismal record for my third great-grandmother, Catherine Cleary, was digitized and posted on line by www.irishgenealogy.ie. Catherine’s baptismal record led me to her parent’s marriage record and pushed back my research another generation.
Rick Frohling showed us his detailed Murphy Family history he had written and distributed to his various cousins both here and abroad. His thoroughly researched paper included photographs and maps—along with genealogical data—to keep the reader engaged to the end. Wouldn’t we all want to receive such a wonderful trove of family lore?
Next up was a guest from Illinois, Kevin Schilt, who has been doing genealogy for forty-plus years, and recently corrected information passed down from his mother which ultimately lead him to finding a great-great grandfather in Switzerland. Congratulations, Kevin.
Owen Newcomer used Find-A-Grave to locate a distant cousin, Brigadier General Francis Kosier Newcomer, who graduated from West Point in 1913 and was Governor of the Panama Canal Zone from 1948-1952.
Finding out exactly where her great-grandmother was buried was the subject of Judy Kraft’s talk. There is a grave marker with her grandmother’s name on it in New York, but Judy proved that she is actually buried in Monrovia, California. Great detective work, Judy.
Donna Aguirre told us about her great-grandparents and their decision to travel from the east coast to Utah by wagon train and how her great-grandfather froze to death after helping other members of the group cross a dangerous river.
We wrapped up with Deborah Miller from Ventura, California who is the family genealogist and told us about connecting with a cousin who helped with her research and shared both family photographs and friendship. What a great combination.
I am looking forward to next year’s Show & Tell when we will hear new stories from the world of genealogy.
Jean Wilcox Hibben’s educational and definitive presentation about pandemics and epidemics, triggered a memory
of Reinhold Karl “Charles” Anacker, my third great-grandfather who perished at Jefferson Barracks Hospital in St. Louis, Missouri from typhoid fever contracted while in a weakened state after being wounded in the Battle of Wilson’s Creek.
Jean showed us how medical records can be extremely helpful in genealogy. In my own genealogical research, I discovered an affidavit signed by Dr. Ignatius Petri and submitted to the U.S. Department of the Interior Pension Office. He believed that “said sickness [typhoid fever] was resulted from said wound, and that said Anacker had been sick and in bad health ever since he was wounded.” Charles was mustered in on May 31, 1861 as a Private in Company F, 1st Regiment of the Kansas Volunteer Infantry, and was wounded on August 10, 1861. He was discharged on March 2, 1862 due to disability and lingered in hospital until his death on February 10, 1865. Charles Anacker was only 37 years old and left behind a widow and seven year old son whom he had last seen when Charles Jr. was three years old.
Encouraged by Jean’s informative talk, I found an article on the National Museum of Civil War Medicine website that states the “death toll for the Civil War to be upwards of 700,000, roughly two thirds of which died from disease. One such disease that widely afflicted these soldiers was typhoid fever.” There were over 75,000 documented cases of typhoid fever with a mortality rate of 36% within the Union Army alone, and there was no effective treatment available. Along with a general lack of knowledge of bacteria and germ theory, conditions both in the military camps and hospitals were ideal for the spread of deadly diseases. Military and civilian surgeons would use whatever was available to alleviate the symptoms such as “opiates, turpentine, quinine, ammonia, whiskey, brandy and leeches.” One Civil War surgeon, Daniel Holt, wrote in his diary that “when I order one [soldier] to hospital, it seems almost equivalent to ordering his grave dug.”
This historical description helped me to comprehend the conditions leading to so much death and misery.
Sadly, there is no grave marker for my third great-grandfather as he was probably buried in a mass grave on or near the grounds of the barracks hospital along with the vast majority of other disease victims.
November’s presentation by Jean Wilcox Hibben about the various issues surrounding the research, treatment, and prevention of pandemics and epidemics of the past is also relevant in today’s political, economic and religious climate with regard to the various approaches to our current situation with Covid 19. At least with today’s advanced knowledge of diagnosis, virology and prevention, we are better able to contain an epidemic before it spreads to become a pandemic, and, better able to protect our children so they won’t be searching medical websites to learn about our fates.
DNA tests are all the rage these days. Even individuals who aren’t deeply invested in genealogical research are rushing to purchase tests to discover their ethnicity, confirm what they believe, or just assuage their curiosity. We, who have spent countless hours, days, months, and years delving into our genealogical past by finding, recording, and sourcing our “paper” research, are now at the point in our pursuit of knowledge where DNA results can confuse, enlighten, or just plan leave us scratching our heads. Especially now, with all the recent advancements in genetic technology that continually refines, expands or narrows our DNA results quicker than we can say the words ‘computer algorithm.’
Sara Cochran’s very informative presentation ‘DNA brought Me to the Forest, but where are all the Trees?’ focused on Ancestry.com’s various DNA matching tools, with her step-by-step instructions on what to do once we’ve received our autosomal DNA results, how to understand the ethnicity breakdown, what shared DNA relationships are and how they are calculated, and what to do once we’ve been notified about our close DNA matches. Sara’s talk took most of the mystery and a lot of the confusion out of the subject.
But, what do we do with all those ‘matches’ that have private, unlinked or no trees for us to see? How are we to know who is actually a potential relative? According to Sara, there are ways to approach these conundrums; we do the research, use caution, and trust but verify. Start with your known cousins, look for that elusive common ancestor, if found, add the information to your notes, then “lather, rinse, repeat” until you’ve confirmed your various connections. One of Sara’s suggestions was to set up a ‘skeleton tree’ of four to six generations with only the direct lineage from the tested individual. When DNA matches start appearing online, use all the new tools available on the Ancestry site to filter, group, and narrow your results to confirm or refute the relationship to the most recent common ancestor (MRCA).
Remember, in order for Ancestry to give you the best results possible, you need to have a well-researched tree of your own and link it to your DNA test results. Remember to use strategy and caution when viewing those shared matches – not everyone may be as thorough as you are when it comes to the genealogical proof standard. Review your notes on confirmed matches, check the profiles of the people on your match list, fill out your collateral lines to find links, don’t be afraid to contact potential matches through Ancestry, and remember that ‘paper matches’ may not have genetic matches due to pedigree collapse or endogamy.
On a final note, when exploring that ‘forest,’ dense with potential DNA matches, be sure to utilize Sara’s helpful steps to weed out the weaker ‘saplings’ and focus on the trees with the healthiest branches to achieve your goal of solving the genealogical ‘Match Game!’
I would venture to guess that many of us have heard family stories claiming to have famous or infamous individuals nestled among the branches of our family trees. In my own family, we had two legends that connected William Frederick “Buffalo Bill” Cody – Civil War soldier, bison hunter and showman – and Edward Thurlow Weed – War of 1812 veteran, newspaper publisher and politician – to my paternal and maternal lines respectively. Long before I had fleshed out my genealogical family history, these two names had become entwined in our family folklore and it took many years and a great deal of sleuthing to uncover the truth behind the legends.
As our keynote speaker Gena Philibert-Ortega noted, the key to proving or disproving these family stories, is to approach the subject as if you were solving a mystery, using methods that should be commonplace to genealogists. First, you want to research the ancestor who is thought to be the connection to the family story, gathering details and creating a timeline to help locate them in the proper time and place. Second, repeat this process with the famous or infamous person to see if you might link them to your family research. Third, research the event and time period to see whether it is plausible that these individuals link up.
To help with your research you need to think like a detective, dig for clues, and answer the following questions: Who told you the story? How did they come to know it? What evidence have you found to support or refute the connection? Could the stories be true? By answering these questions you can determine whether the stories about the rogues, bluebloods, or celebrities flirting around the edges of your family tree are the real thing. Using Gena’s methodological approach, you will be able to confirm if those family legends are fact or fiction.
In the case of my father’s family legend about Buffalo Bill Cody, in depth research confirmed that there is an extremely tenuous connection to my great-grandaunt Clara Mae (Doerges) Bowen through Martha and Hannah Cody, second cousins twice removed from Buffalo Bill. Both women married Bowen brothers who are third cousins four times removed from Clara’s husband, Frank Stewart Bowen. So, no, my family is not directly related to Buffalo Bill. Sorry, dad.
As for Edward Thurlow Weed, his link to my mother’s family is extremely tempting, but cannot be confirmed or denied. Thurlow was born in 1797 in Cairo, Greene County, New York to Joel and Mary (Ellis) Weed and my third great-grandfather, Jesse Weed, was born in 1791 in Cairo, Greene County, New York, the son of John and Susanna (Mason) Weed. Could they be cousins? I’ll never know for sure, because although I have traced my Weed line all the way back to the first Weed to arrive in Massachusetts Bay in 1630, Jonas Weed, I can not find any trace of Thurlow’s ancestry. His line stops at his father. However, there is a tantalizing clue found in the middle name of his last-born child, Emily Peck Weed. Martha Peck married Caleb Weed, my fifth great-grandfather, in Waterbury, Connecticut in 1742 and I have documented the Peck line back to William Peck born in Cambridge, England circa 1580. Does this mean that Thurlow is somehow connected to the Peck family? Until his ancestry can be documented, it will remain a mystery.
As genealogists, we have all become familiar with the axioms that ‘spelling is fluid’ and that handwritten documents from the past can be ‘extremely challenging’ – if not impossible – to decipher. With the help of Pam Vestal’s informative presentation about overcoming difficult handwriting – and in my case, the purchase of two recommended books – we can now employ her thirteen strategies to help us successfully overcome the unreadable-writing dilemma.
The birth record of my eighth great-grandfather is below. Thomas Lippincott was born to Freedom and Mary Lippincott on the 28th of the tenth month in the year one thousand six hundred eighty and six. The document also included a list of the various witnesses consisting of family members and members of their Friends Meeting. Obviously, there is a discrepancy in the spelling of the surname (remember axiom #1), the extra ‘e’ on year and born, the double ‘t’ in witnesses, the use of superscript, and the flourish of the capital T in Thomas. As Ms. Vestal instructed us at our August meeting, this is an excellent example of ‘secretary hand’ penmanship that was in common use in colonial America. And, it illustrates why we need to become familiar with various forms of writing. Otherwise, we may misinterpret vital clues in our ancestral research, leaving us with more questions than answers.
Pam explained that knowing the difference between today’s alphabet and what we see in very old documents is crucial when we begin transcribing what appear to be chicken scratches into understandable text. Using her step-by-step strategies combined with her list of historical handwriting resources, websites and manuals along with persistence and patience, you may be delighted with what you can achieve.
How many times have we all hoped to find that one elusive document to fill the gaping hole in our family research? In the past we wrote letters, drove long distances, and planned trips around the need to break through those obstinate genealogical brick walls. Today—thanks to digitization—much of how we research can be accomplished at home or at a library on a computer. Which leads me to thank Tamara Hallo for her in-depth presentation about the incredible quantity of resources available at FamilySearch.org. I hope to put her excellent tips to work very soon on my own stubborn brick wall ancestors.
For me, the key takeaway from Saturday’s program was that we’re all underusing this valuable collection of historical records. Tamara walked us through, step by step, on the various ways we can dig deep for those digitized gems scattered throughout the millions of records in the FamilySearch holdings. Whether we search by name, collection, location or catalog, we have at our fingertips (literally), access to historical records, indexes, family trees, family history and genealogy books, research guides to help us become better researchers, and expert help from the FamilySearch community. And, the best part is that it is FREE! Yes, FREE!
Over the years, FamilySearch.org has become one of my go-to genealogy research websites. Although I have memberships in Ancestry and MyHeritage, FamilySearch is still one of my favorites for two reasons: it has extensive (and continually growing) digital records and it’s FREE. (Is there an echo in here?) FamilySearch.org is where I found the birth, marriage, and death records for my father’s German ancestors all the way back to Johann Martin Weis Sr. my seventh great-grandfather from Steinbach, Baden-Württemberg. It’s also where I found my Swedish great-grandfather, Jonas Ivar Östman’s naturalization papers. These are just two examples of the information I’ve found that has given me not only a deeper sense of my relationship to my historical family but has encouraged me to learn about the historical context in which they lived.
FamilySearch.org is a hidden gem; an underutilized resource, and many genealogists (especially beginners) don’t realize what a genealogical gold-mine of records await them. You never know where your genealogy research journey will take you or whom you’ll discover; FamilySearch.org is a great place to start your journey. If you have genealogical questions, find the answers you are looking for by using the tips and insights demonstrated by Ms. Hallo. If you find yourself needing a bit more direction, contact Tamara at: email@example.com.